Family is certainly God-ordained.
I think it’s so easy to forget that the stories of the Bible were first and foremost real people’s lives. It’s also easy to forget that these stories were not so simple to pass down or write down. The things that were recorded in our Bible were very intentional – they had to be. Therefore, when I read all these beautiful stories of family in the Old Testament especially, I can’t help but believe that this idea is so important for us to understand. Abraham couldn’t have posted his life story on Instagram after all, he had to be intentional about what he shared and therefore what was passed on.
The story of Abraham and Isaac hangs out in Genesis. I’ve heard this story told in sermon after sermon, but now when I read it, I see and hear a different message that speaks from the heart of a God who is all about family.
Genesis 22: 1-2 – Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
I remember hearing a sermon on this story at some point in my life, and the pastor talked about Molech, the god of child sacrifice. That always stuck with me. Molech was a god of the Canaanites, and it wouldn’t have been totally unusual for a family to sacrifice a son to Molech in order for him to give prosperity to the family. So when Abraham is told by God to take Isaac up to the mountain and sacrifice him as a burnt offering, I can’t imagine what he must have been feeling. All I can come up with is disappointment. All this time, Abraham thought his God was different, his God was better – but now, here he is, trekking up the mountain, his heart breaking as Isaac asks, “where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”, and all Abraham can say in response is, “God will provide the lamb”.
I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine the pain. I can’t imagine the disappointment. Yet faith and obedience moved Abraham forward, until he stood on the mountaintop and laid Isaac out to be a sacrifice for the LORD. I hope I have a heart like Abraham: a heart that is willing to give up everything I hold dear for what God asks of me, even when I don’t understand, and even when it seems so wrong.
We all know how the story goes after this point. There is a climactic moment when we all imagine in our heads that Abraham is reaching a dagger over Isaac, both hands extended overhead (Lion King style), and just as he begins to plunge the knife down, an angel of the LORD rushes in between father and son dramatically yelling “stop!”. I wasn’t there that day, but I don’t feel it’s sacrilegious for me to keep this very poignant moment in my head this way – because hey, it’s cool. If Disney gets to have super cool dramatic moments then so do we. So I’ll keep picturing this moment as such, Abraham’s long hair and beard blowing in the wind as the sun rises behind him over the mountain.
God does provide a ram for the sacrifice, but what the angel says to Abraham is probably more important than what you may have noticed. No surprise, it’s all about family.
Genesis 22: 15-18 – The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.
A blessing of family.
The angel blesses Abraham because of this obedience. This part is the part we always hear, but it is so striking to me now that the angel blesses Abraham with family. His blessing for Abraham’s incredible faith, a faith that was willing to sacrifice a son he had waited and waited for, was to give him more family. He gave him a community. Descendants. A legacy. The angel gifted Abraham with a beautiful legacy of family. How cool is that? We can’t look over it. And Abraham knew that this was the biggest blessing the angel could have given – that angel wasn’t skimping out on Abraham!
Of course, God wasn’t satisfied with this definition of family that we read about in the Old Testament. All these moments that we read and can so relate to were just the imperfect portrayal of something God had planned from the very beginning. When God saved Isaac that day and provided a different lamb for the sacrifice, it was with the knowledge that one day He would provide His perfect lamb for the sacrifice, and our family would finally be whole again. Israel was a nation based on genetics and birth, but God had something better in mind all along, and He couldn’t wait to share it with us.
God’s best family is not about genetics, it’s about taking our seat at the table regardless of who we are and where we come from. Ruth gives us a hint of this with her story in the Old Testament. She wasn’t blood related to her mother-in-law., but their definition of family was stronger than that. I think when God wrote their story, He had us in mind too. God doesn’t want His children to be defined by their own birth, but instead by the birth and actions of His son. He makes family new. He makes our family what it should have always been. We are in His family because of love, not birth. He erases and redefines what it means to be children. Just like Ruth clung to Naomi and said, “No. Where you go, I’m going too”, we also get to cling to God and say, “No. I choose better. I choose more. I choose to be a part of this family”, and God looks at us and says, “Well come on then!”
But acting out of faith for God like Abraham did isn’t even possible if we don’t know that we belong in His family. Any action of faith will feel crippling to us if we don’t feel like we belong. We will spend our whole life wondering, “Why me?”. We won’t ever think the call to act is for us. We won’t ever feel deserving or worthy. I hate to break it to you, but God will use anyone, anyone who is willing to act and step out in faith. Those are the qualifications. Those are the only qualifications. If we can’t master feeling like we belong though, God can’t use us to our fullest potential. You’ll spend your whole life waiting, and wishing you were worthy, and convincing yourself the call can’t be for you – after all, you’re just you.
But belonging gives us courage.
It gives us courage to act out in faith. How could our lives change if we start telling ourselves that God can and will use us if we let Him? Abraham is a prime example. When we know we belong in this family, we will have no shortage of opportunities to act out in faith. And each action of stepping out in faith will lead to another step, and another, and another. Before you know it, you’ll be living your own real-life adventure with Jesus.
Abraham and Isaac stood on that mountain that day (Abraham’s hair and beard still blowing in the wind of course) and God provided a ram that day. But God knew something Abraham didn’t really understand yet. He knew that one day, He would do something that He would never ask Abraham to do. He WOULD provide His son for the sacrifice. Sacrificing a son, a beloved son, an only begotten son, is the biggest sacrifice of all. God knew He would one day do that for Abraham. He would one day do that for us. So now when I read the story of Abraham and Isaac, I picture them walking down from the mountain, hand in hand, and I picture God watching them and whispering, “Welcome to the family.”
Romans 8:17 – “and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified in him.”
I’m not perfect.
And I don’t deserve it.
But I’m invited.
Welcome to the family, friend. You belong here – come take your seat.
With Great Joy,
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